Distance: 7.8 miles one-way
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Elevation Change: 1000 feet
Cautions: ATV use
Camping: No designated campsites
Topographic Maps: Well Spring, Ausmus, and Fork Ridge Quadrangles
Southern Terminus: Wilson Gap (N36 28.837 W083 53.996)
Northern Terminus: Carr Gap (N36 30.706 W083 49.711)
The Cumberland Trail from Wilson Gap to Carr Gap follows the ridge of Cumberland Mountain, a natural divide with coalmines dominating the western horizon while farms and pastureland dominate the eastern horizon. To the east, the view of Powell Valley is breathtaking, with Clinch Mountain in the distance and on a clear day Great Smoky Mountains on the far horizon. This view of Powell Valley will be a recurring theme on this hike and is particularly stunning from late fall to early spring. There are still great views in summer, you just have to wait for the occasional clearing or rock outcrop. Once you have made the hike up to the Cumberland ridgeline, you’ll have the most strenuous part of the hike behind you. The trail between the gaps has a number of ups and downs typical of a ridge trail, but nothing as rocky and steep as access to the trail from the valley below. The trail from Wilson Gap to Carr Gap is used by ATVs, with most of it wide and clearly identifiable. In several locations, orange TDEC markers are visible designating the public right-of-way boundary.
This section of the CT can be accessed from TN 63 about halfway between Lafollette and Harrogate from the Speedwell community. When we make the hike, we drop a car off on the road going up to Carr Gap, shuttle to Wilson Gap, and depart from there. There are no designated parking areas at either Gap; so if you leave a vehicle at either end, ensure you remove any valuables.
To reach the southern end of this trail section, take TN 63 from Lafollette to Wilson Gap Road on your left in about 11 miles, 1.3 miles after crossing into Claiborne County. Wilson Gap Road is a 1.2-mile loop; so if you are coming from Harrogate, you can access the opposite end of Wilson Gap Road about 1.2 miles after passing the Speedwell, TN post office. After turning onto the southern end of Wilson Gap Road, turn west on Carey Road. Follow it for 0.4 mile, passing Chumley Mountain Road on your right just before dead-ending at a turnaround. To access Wilson Gap, walk up Chumley Mountain Road as it turns to gravel and passes a cemetery on your left; the road then becomes impassable by vehicle, climbing sharply and becoming very rough. It’s a total of 1.2 miles up Chumley Mountain Road to Wilson Gap.
Northern access is on Carr Gap Road, 5.8 miles northeast of Wilson Gap off TN 63 and 10.5 miles from the intersection of TN 63 and US 25E in Harrogate. There is a currently a store on the corner known as “Pudges.” Carr Gap Road is paved for the first 0.8 mile then becomes a dirt/ATV trail as it starts up Cumberland Mountain. There’s plenty of room to park on the side of the road where the pavement ends. An alternative is to park on the TN 63 right of way across from the intersection with Carr Gap Road. On a nice day, you will typically see several vehicles parked in this area after they have offloaded ATVs.
Tennessee Valley Divide Section 2 – map by Don Deakins
Mile 0.0 (7.8) Head up Chumley Mountain Road, which is moderately steep and very rocky after the cemetery.
Headed toward Wilson Gap (Sharon Petro)
Mile 1.2 (6.6) Reaching Wilson Gap, you’ll have a view of the coal mining areas around Tackett Creek and Clairfield to the northwest and the view of Powell Valley to the southeast. The gap is easily identifiable, as there is an ATV trail running through the gap that follows the Cumberland Mountain ridgeline. Take the ATV trail to your right, heading in a generally northeasterly direction.
Mile 1.4 (6.4) After hiking 300 to 400 yards, you’ll see the skeletal remnants of a cabin adjacent to the trail. Depending on the time of year you’re hiking, beautiful ferns and mountain laurel can be found another few hundred yards past the old cabin.
Mile 2.7 (5.1) Big Cliff (N36 28.307 W083 52.610), a rocky outcrop on the eastern face of the ridge, provides a stunning vista of Powell Valley below and the various mountain ridges to the northeast. To the southeast, you can also see various coves with the deep blue waters of Norris Lake. Just below the cliff is a dirt road coming up to Rogers Gap from the valley below. This road provides access to the radio tower that you’ll notice a few hundred yards north of Big Cliff. This is one of our favorite spots on this hike and would make a wonderful campsite for an overnight stay; Leave No Trace (LNT) camping practices should be used.
Shortly after departing Big Cliff, you’ll encounter the radio tower and a number of dirt roads in the area. Stay on the western side of the tower and associated buildings. The terrain will take you that direction, and the trail is in good shape. There has been some logging in the area, so be on the lookout for any active logging. The trail and the ridge take more of a northwestern trek after departing Big Cliff.
Past the radio tower, you begin to descend into Rogers Gap. There are many stories about union soldiers traveling to and from Cumberland Gap and crossing through Rogers Gap and the Tackett Creek area.
Mile 3.7 (4.1) After descending into Rogers Gap, the trail advances up the other side with a steady slope. Pass a trail to the right that descends into the valley below. Within a few hundred yards there is a Y in the trail; stay to the right (northeast).
Mile 4.6 (3.2) The next significant terrain feature is Dunn Gap (N36 29.074 W083 51.678), which is 0.9 mile from Rogers Gap. The Gap is only a few hundred yards wide and the trail quickly starts back up the other side.
After leaving Dunn Gap, you will again encounter a Y in the trail (N36 29.276 W083 51.421). This time go to the left (northwest) to avoid private property. The trail is not well marked here, with quite a bit of traffic going both right and left. The right fork descends a hill to a private residence on the cliff overlooking the valley.
Continue along the ridge; you’ll find numerous large oaks and hickories along the trail. While you have temporarily lost the view of the valley, you are in a deep forest with lots of wildlife. Don’t be surprised if you come across deer, turkey, or even a bear or elk.
Rock Outcrop along the Cumberland Trail (Sharon Petro)
Mile 5.7 (2.1) There is a very large rock and a number of huge oak trees. The rock makes a good resting place with a number of great places to stretch or take a quick nap.
Mile 6.2 (1.6) You will encounter a spring in a depression with steep walls on three sides. Although the water appears to be good, you should treat all water in the backcountry.
Mile 6.3 (1.5) The trail will be back along the ridge with an excellent view of Powell Valley (N36 30.325 W083 50.017). You are getting close to Carr Gap, and if you look toward the northeast you should see the TN 63 and the Carr Gap Road intersection.
The remainder of the trail is along the ridgeline with great views and lots of sunshine on a clear day; however, the trail runs along a heavily used ATV trail. If you are hiking on a weekend and the weather is good, count on seeing, or at least hearing, numerous ATVs in the area.
Mile 7.4 (0.4) You’ll come to Carr Gap (N36 30.706 W083 49.711) and Carr Gap Road. While most of the road is dirt and can only be accessed via ATV, it is a Claiborne County road. Turn right to descend Carr Gap Road, which is very steep and rocky.
Mile 7.8 (0.0) Reach pavement, which is where you would leave a shuttle vehicle. It’s another 0.8 mile out to TN 63.
— Sharon Petro, Ron Petro, Cumberland Trail Volunteers